MIDDLE OF THE ROAD | Taste of Cherry

Against a teasingly allegorical cast, Badii is a protagonist in the lineage of Dante. By Louis Rogers

Talk about a midlife crisis. Most people are content to buy a Range Rover, but Mr Badii drives his around the outskirts of Tehran relentlessly, looking for someone to assist him with a melodramatically conceived suicide attempt. Taste of Cherry reveals nothing about Badii’s background or the reasons for his despair: he is simply the quintessential bloke lost and adrift in midlife. 

His position in life is reinforced by the sequence of people he encounters on the roads: children playing in an abandoned car; a teenage soldier on national service; a serious, thirty-something religious scholar; an elderly and world-weary taxidermist. Against this teasingly allegorical cast, Badii is a protagonist in the lineage of Dante, whose descent into Hell begins: “Midway upon the journey of our life/ I found myself within a forest dark,/ For the straightforward pathway had been lost.” Badii’s car drives along roads cut into the steep, crumbling slopes of hills: he is perpetually halfway. 

Taste of Cherry is mostly made up of two-person dialogues conducted in the front seats of the car, and director Abbas Kiarostami chooses to cut between shots of individuals: they are never seen at the same time. In filmmaking lingo, Kiarostami doesn’t bother with “establishing” shots. This lack of establishment makes Badii all the more disorientated – in the midst of something we can’t fully discern. It also evokes another kind of in-betweenness: the camera, or the filmmaker, who we are made to sense, situated in between the two speakers. (In fact, Kiarostami filmed the scenes with each actor separately, filming from the seat in which the other character would be.) This version of interstitiality feels potent: an opportunity for patient observation, for the studied sensory enjoyment of the world that the film – and its title – celebrate.

A relationship between Badii’s impotent, self-pitying in-betweeness and the film’s patient, perceptive version might be indicated by the out-of-nowhere sideswipe of an ending that caps this gloriously enigamtising film: Badii lies in his grave; there is darkness and noise; then we see Kiarostami and his crew in the hills outside Tehran, making the film we are watching. Is this Badii’s afterlife? Or his prehistory? Have we gone back to the start, or are we still stuck in the middle?

 

Taste of Cherry is available to stream as part of TANK’s season SCULPTING IN TIME. Subscribe for just £3 a month for access to 40+ films throughout the year.